Friday, June 22, 2012

He Stopped to Tell Me He Knew My Grandmother

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on June 22, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

It’s amazing how one small, unexpected moment can make your whole day and bring back into focus what is important. I had such a moment this past weekend, and I wanted to share it.

I was shopping Saturday at the country store in Norton when I heard someone call my name. I have lived in town for over 50 years, so it is not unusual for a friend or neighbor to shout out hello. But when I turned, I was greeted by a smiling couple I did not recognize. They were older than me (I know, hard to believe) and I thought perhaps they had recognized me from this space or my time as a town official.

But the gentleman put his hand out and said, “Bill, I’ve been meaning to mail a letter to you for so long now. I read your column all the time and I wanted to say – I knew your grandmother Jessie, the one you wrote about.”

I was shocked for a minute, and then embarrassingly asked him his name. He told me, and immediately I knew who he was. I didn’t ask if I could print his name, so he shall remain anonymous here. But he had lived behind my grandparents when they resided on Highland Avenue in Mansfield not far from the train station. And here he was, taking the time to talk to me about my grandmother – who would have been 107 this year.

We chatted for a few minutes, remembering old times and neighbors. We reminisced about days gone by, and he said he recalled my grandmother’s infectious laugh. We discussed local politics, and where everyone has gone now. Then we shook hands and said goodbye – people who had not seen each other in over 40 years. But the fact he took the time to say hello and mention my grandparents stayed with me, and no doubt will for a long time.

It brought me back to when I spent a lot of time in Mansfield, and the neighborhood my grandparents lived in almost all their lives. Perhaps I view it through the rose-colored glasses of youth, but the fact remains Mansfield back then was a great place to be a kid.

I remember the huge field on Draper Avenue that my grandparents would traverse every day when they walked to work at the old Bay State Tap & Die Company. We played often in that field, and my grandfather would take me across it to watch the trains roar by on their way to the big city. And I recall the almost magical trips to the downtown area, which in the 1960’s was a snapshot of the typical rural American town.

We would cross the train bridge to Cuneo’s and say hello to Emma, then have an ice cream soda and buy a comic book. My grandfather would take me next door to the Sunrise Barbershop, where Butch and Harry would cut our hair and I would listen to them talk about sports and town affairs. Then we would get fish ‘n chips from the Mansfield House and head back home (probably after he had a cold one).

My grandmother would take us clothes shopping at Sannies, usually after she and my mom had their hair done at Joseph’s salon on Main Street. I would often wander up and down that busy thoroughfare while I waited, dropping into places like Stearns and Western Auto and the 5 & 10 (does anyone else even remember the 5 & 10?). And sometimes we would end up at George’s Cleaners and Laundromat, where the Coke machine took your money more than half the time.

All those businesses are gone now. The buildings are either torn down or remodeled, and not nearly as many kids wander up and down Main Street. But that Mansfield still lives in my childhood memories.

And today those memories are a little brighter and a little sharper, all because a wonderful couple took the time to come up to me and say: “Hi – I knew your grandmother.” When they left I told them it had been nice seeing them. I only hope they understood just how truly nice I thought it was.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook

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